Monday, February 6, 2012

Then We Worship

Then We Worship

"Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God. Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self." John Calvin

"If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, - Give me a drink, - you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." John 4:10 (ESV)

Worship requires two distinct elements of knowledge: the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves.

Alone, neither is sufficient for worship.

We can recognize the majesty and power of God only in comparing it to our own misery and poverty. In other words, imagine if it were possible for a human to have no true self-awareness, no knowledge of their own limited power or intelligence. Allowed to observe God or to sense God's work, the human would simply accept every observation as completely normal. The human, in fact, would be unable to place any value or worth upon God's work.

It would be similar to bringing an infant, perhaps a baby less than a year old, within sight and smell of a lion, or an erupting volcano. As long as it were warm, dry and fed, the infant would regard the powerful danger as nothing more than a picture on a wall or a fly on a table or a stuffed animal toy. Human instinct would prompt the infant to explore or attempt to discover more information, but there would be absolutely no impulse to cower or prostrate or wonder or admire.

There would be no worship.

From the other side: Imagine someone, if it were possible, who had no awareness of God, no ability to see outside of themselves, no sense of the majesty and power of God. For this person all they know is themselves. They know precisely what power and control and intellect they possess.

Yet they have no knowledge of anyone else. Every other person, including God, appears to them to have precisely the same power and control and intellect that they themselves possess. They see nothing different, or better, or stronger, in any other person or God. It would be similar to a infant born deaf and blind, brought before a lion or volcano...or God. The baby would be ignorant of any danger. The baby would be conscious of nothing special or different.

There would be no worship.

In reality, humans have a strange and inconsistent mixture of knowledge, both of themselves and of God. For some people, their knowledge of themselves is pitifully small, easily excused or ignored, thus making it easy to favorably compare themselves to others, including God. For a person ignorant of their deepest weaknesses, there is little need to worship God as being more powerful or more intelligent.

There would be no worship.

For others, their knowledge of God is pitifully small. They do see clearly their own faults, their own weaknesses and mistakes, but with only other humans with which to compare, it's easy to find a group over which they might feel superior, or at least comfortable. Without much knowledge of God's majesty and power, their own portion of strength and goodness seems quite sufficient.

There would be no worship.

For the one who is moved to worship God, it must be seen as a miracle. Two opposing yet essential areas of knowledge must be present, and balanced. To be sure, we all start small. Our knowledge of ourselves when young is very small, and our knowledge of God is simple. Yet worship does not require much knowledge, only that there is knowledge of both areas, ourselves and God, and both knowledges must be simultaneous and balanced.

Then we worship.

I have seen the consequences of unbalanced, inconsistent knowledge of God and of ourselves. There was a time in my life when my knowledge of God was shallow, yet my introspective self-awareness was deep and influential. I sensed there was a God, more a force or mysterious being, that created the world and functioned as a Watcher. Yet I understood clearly the deepest thoughts within my own heart. I could describe my youngest behavior in terms of inner desires and outside influences. I felt alone in crowds, self-aware of every facial expression, every word...scanning others for the slightest indication of how I was being perceived...continually adjusting my behavior to meet my surroundings.

This extreme, imbalanced relationship between my knowledge of myself compared to my knowledge of God made worship non-existent. I felt no impulse to kneel or bow or pray or praise God. I had such a small knowledge base of spiritual things compared to that of my own emotional and physical influences.

That was about forty years ago. I was young, on the verge of jumping off the edge at which high school ends and the world begins. I still have the same, probably much more, level of self-awareness, introspection...sometimes it's almost a social disablility.

Yet now I often worship God. Sincerely. Inwardly and genuinely.

I'm not talking about the behavior others see: going to church, reading the Bible, praying outloud, listening to Christian music, hands up, head bowed. Those are all behaviors that may, or may not, indicate what's going on in my heart.

I'm saying that often, emotionally and mentally, but rarely physically, I kneel on my knees, or lie flat on the floor, heart rent with the largeness of God: His power and creativity, His intelligence and wisdom, His sovereign control over every detail of my life, and His mercy and grace.

What has changed?

I know more about God.

My knowledge of God has caught up with my knowledge of myself. More than simply catching up, my increasing knowledge of God has deepened my knowledge of myself. Together, the comparing and the contrasting of myself with God, moves me. It overwhelms me at times.

And I worship.

"Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other...

"In the first place, no man can survey himself without forthwith turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves; because it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone...

"On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he have previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity."

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book One, Chapter One

Image provided by chrisyarzab, /, Creative Commons License